As the school year begins we are inevitably faced with the task of motivation and mentoring students as they navigate the educational journey.  We have to decipher what intrinsically inspires a learner while helping to develop holistic self-motivating abilities.  As a college professor for many years, I continually strive to have my advisees understand that there are several non-curricular things that directly affect students’ academic outcomes. Inevitably, I developed my own theories of how and why some students were successful in education while others struggled continuously. Through my own action research, I began to compile an impromptu list of the characteristics or skills possessed by successful students. The most important characteristics on my list are attitude and planning.

I have found, and research supports that a student’s attitude has a drastic impact on their academic, social and emotional success. Extensive research indicates, “Engagement in schoolwork involves both behaviors (such as persistence, effort, attention) and attitudes (such as motivation, positive learning values, enthusiasm, interest, and pride in success). (Connell and Wellborn 1991; Johnson, Crosnoe, and Elder 2001; Newmann 1992; Skinner and Belmont1993; Smerdon 1999; Turner, Thorpe, and Meyer 1998). A positive attitude is believed to be contagious. When your attitude is sincere, the people around you relate to you and your activities with an energy and positive attitude that creates a winning, successful environment (McGrath 2002).

You are likely familiar with the glass half-full or half-empty analogy, and here it has credence. Individuals, who see the glass as half- full, are categorized as optimist. Optimist are said to expect great things, work hard for those things and are likely to achieve them. Their counterparts, those who see the glass as half-empty, are said to operate in a world of what cannot be accomplished. The question could then be presented, is it possible to be both pessimistic and optimistic? To which I respond yes. A positive frame of mind is a decision. Each day as an educator you make a conscience effort to view things positively or negatively. The task for you as a professional working with developing students is to allow your attitude to positively impact/ influence your students.

University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman confirms that optimistic people are happier, healthier, and more successful than those with a negative attitude. Your attitude will directly affect your ability to make a lasting personal connection with your students. In essence, your students will not willing accept your advise, criticisms or suggestion if they don’t feel a connection with you. In his research, Alexander Astin (1977, 1993) determined that the persistence or retention rate of students is greatly affected by the level and quality of their interactions with peers as well as faculty and staff.

The second critical item on my list is planning. We all benefit when we have clearly defined goals and objectives to guide our learning, and our lives. Students who are aware of their learning goals tend to reflect on what it takes to learn, often termed metacognition (Flavell 1979; Pintrich et al, 2002). Metacognition includes knowledge about oneself as a learner, knowledge about academic task, and knowledge about strategies to use in order to accomplish academic tasks. In my examination of planning, I ask my students to reveal the following:

Their reason for planning

Their planning phases and,

Factors considered in planning.

Many students will say, I have a positive attitude about learning, and a plan and yet I still struggle to succeed. So what is missing? How can you help students become more effective learners? Encourage self- regulated, strategic learning. Strategic learners are able to set and use meaningful goals to help them learn, generate and maintain their motivation for studying ( Schunk & Ertmer, 1999). Strategic learners are able to apply relevant prior knowledge to learn new things. There is a positive overall relationship between self-regulation and academic achievement. Children and young people with more adaptive personal skills and learning resources are more likely to succeed academically (Duncan et al.,2007; McClelland et al., 2000).Self-regulation is a dynamic concept: it suggests activities and thinking processes that learners can engage in and which are amenable to change, rather than fixed traits that individuals either possess or lack.

Ultimately, I hope you have now gained an understanding of the theories shared to combine with your positive attitude and a plan of action that prepares you and your students to be self-regulated strategic learners, destined to succeed.


Astin, A.W. (1977). What matters most in college: Four critical years. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Astin, A.W. (1993). What matters most in college: Four critical years revisited. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Duncan, G.J., Dowsett, C.J., Claessens, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A.C., Klebanov,P., Pagani, L.S., Feinstein, L., Engel, M., Brooks-Gunn, J., Sexton, H., Duckworth,K. and Japel, C. (2007) School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1428–46.

Elliott, J. (1981) Action research: a framework for self-evaluation in schools. TIQL working paper no.1., Cambridge, Cambridge Institute of Education.

Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive-developmental inquiry. American Psychologist, v34 n10 p906-11 Oct 1979.

McClelland, M., Morrison, F.J. and Holmes, D.L. (2000) Children at risk for early academic problems: The role of learning-related social skills. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15,307–29.

Schunk, D. H., & Ertmer, P. A. (1999). Self-regulatory processes during computer skill acquisition: Goals and self-evaluative influences. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91, 251-260.